Responding to questions from priests and deacons ministering in the Diocese of Rome, Pope Francis said the possibility of blessing gay couples regards "people, not organizations" or their agendas.

The pope spent about three hours Jan. 13 with some 800 priests and deacons at Rome's Basilica of St. John Lateran, the diocesan cathedral. He prayed with the clergy and answered about 30 questions from them, according to the diocese.

The meeting was held behind closed doors, but Vatican News reported on what the pope said, although it did not quote him directly. Avvenire, the daily Catholic newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference, reported quotes from the pope attributed to priests who were present.

In Africa, the provision allowing for non-liturgical, informal blessings of gay couples and couples in irregular marriage situations will not be adopted, the pope said, because "the culture will not accept it," Avvenire reported.

But the pope added, "We are blessing people, not (their) sin."

And, the newspaper said, the pope gave an example: "When we bless a business owner we do not ask if he or she has stolen."

Vatican News said the pope told the clergy that many people do not read the documents the Vatican publishes.

Asked about divisions within the church, Pope Francis said, "there are conflicts, but we must not lose the ability to be surprised seeing the works of God."

Internal disputes, he said, must be "handled and not hidden."

Pope Francis also told the priests that while a majority of people in Rome have been baptized, the city is a "mission land" in need of evangelization.

He announced that he would resume visiting parishes, a practice interrupted by the COVID pandemic.

Pope Francis also gave the priests advice about being merciful when hearing confessions and told them their homilies should be only seven or eight minutes long.